AUBURN, Ala. -- In a thriller that lasted four hours, saw the lead change hands or the game tied 10 times and a total of 32 runners left on base, the Kentucky baseball team outlasted No. 29 Auburn, 8-7, in an instant classic on Saturday, in front of 1,785 fans at Plainsman Park.
The back-and-forth affair saw the lead tied or change hands a total of 10 times in the four-hour game. UK found itself down two runs entering the top of the eighth inning and mounted a furious comeback to plate three runs and go ahead 8-7. The game began on Saturday morning at Plainsman Park before rains suspended play until it was resumed Sunday morning.
The two teams will square off in a rubber match, currently in progress, at Plainsman Park. The game is being broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM in Lexington and on WKJK 1080-AM in Louisville.
Kentucky (23-16, 6-11 Southeastern Conference) pounded out 14 hits and plated eight runs, drawing 10 walks, getting hit by four pitches and stealing an eye-popping eight bases. UK left an SEC-high 19 runners on base, with Auburn leaving 13 runners stranded in the game.
The Wildcats got a season-high four-hit game from senior centerfielder Keenan Wiley, with senior Gunner Glad belting his eighth homer of the year to lead off the top of the eighth inning and UK trailing by two runs. Preseason All-American second baseman Chris Bisson stole four bases, drew two walks and went 2-for-3 at the plate with an RBI. Freshman Luke Maile got the start behind the dish and drew two walks and added an RBI single in the second inning.
UK starter Jordan Cooper (2-3) made his first career SEC start and lasted three innings, allowing five hits and three runs, walking four and striking out one. UK got a strong effort from junior lefty Mike Kaczmarek, who hurled two innings, allowing one hit and two runs, walking two and striking out four. Kaczmarek was replaced by closer Matt Little (2-1), who turned in a gutty performance, going the final four innings, allowing five hits and two unearned runs, not issuing a walk for the win.
Auburn (26-14, 9-8 SEC) starter Cole Nelson (5-3) began the contest Saturday morning but was not on the mound when the game resumed. Nelson loaded the bases Saturday with one out but was replaced when the game resumed by Slade Smith. Smith went 3.2 innings, allowing seven hits and three runs. Auburn emptied its bullpen in the game, using seven total pitches, with closer Austin Hubbard (3-2) taking the loss after allowing the decisive run in his 2/3 innings of work.
UK opened the top of the first inning with a walk to Bisson on a 3-2 count. After Andy Burns struck out and Bisson stole second base, Chad Wright drew a walk on four pitches, with Bisson and Wright executing a double steal to put both runners in scoring position. Braden Kapteyn drew a walk to load the bases for Ray. Before Ray could get into the box to hit, the game was halted at 1:01 p.m. ET on Saturday. The inning was resumed Sunday at 11:31 a.m. ET, with Ray hitting a 0-1 offering into a 4-6-3 ground-ball double play to end the frame.
The Wildcats got a run in the second inning to take a 1-0 lead. Glad led off the inning with a single up the middle, advancing to third after Wiley chopped a single over the head of the Auburn infield and into rightfield. Maile lined an RBI single down the right-field line, scoring Glad from third and moving Wiley to second base. Taylor Black attempted to lay down a sacrifice bunt to put both runners in scoring position but Wiley was called out at third base as the lead runner. Bisson loaded the bases with a single into rightfield, to bring up Burns. Burns struck out looking on a 1-2 pitch and Wright grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the UK threat.
Auburn responded in the bottom of the second inning, evening up the game at 1-1. After Casey McElroy popped out to lead off, Kevin Patterson hit his 11th homer of the year, a line-drive jack off a 1-0 pitch into centerfield.
The Tigers took the lead in the third. After Cooper got the two leadoff hitters out efficiently, he issued a four-pitch walk to the dangerous Hunter Morris. With two outs and Tony Caldwell at the plate, Cooper got Caldwell to loft a high bat-handle pop up into no-man’s land in centerfield. UK’s leftfielder, Wright, had it tracked, running from right and making an outstretched diving attempt at the ball but when he slide to the ground it popped out of his glove. Morris was running the whole way with two outs and just beat the throw from Wright to the plate.
UK immediately regained the lead with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth. Bisson led off with a walk and Burns reached on a hard-hit single to shortstop on a hit-and-run. Wright followed and hit a groundball right at Morris at first base, who got Burns out at second, but Wright’s head-first slide beat the throw to first base. With Wright moving from first base and Bisson moving from third on a double steal, Kapteyn was called out for batter’s interference, negating the run scored by Bisson. That brought up Ray, who peppered the wall in right-centerfield for his fourth double of the series, scoring both Bisson and Wright, with the ball bouncing off the top of the wall, just missing a homer.
Auburn evened up the game in the bottom of the fourth, plating one run but leaving the bases loaded thanks to some nifty pitching from the UK bullpen. Patterson led off the inning with a four-pitch walk and Dan Gamache followed by drilling a hard-hit ball off the top of the wall in right-centerfield, moving Patterson to third and Gamache moving to second for a double. UK turned to Kapteyn with a 2-0 count and Justin Hargett up and Kapteyn walked Hargett, with the walk credited to Cooper. Kapteyn then walked Justin Fradejas on four straight pitches, prompting his removal from the mound and allowing Patterson to trot home. UK turned to Kaczmarek, who got Trent Mummey to pop out in the infield on the first pitch, struck out right-handed hitting Brian Fletcher then fanned the left-handed hitting Morris on three pitches to get out of the inning with the game tied.
UK scratched across a run in the top of the sixth inning, taking a 4-3 lead. After Wright struck out to leadoff, pinch hitter Neiko Johnson drew a walk and stole second base. Ray flied out and Glad drew a walk, with Johnson moving to third on a passed ball. That brought Wiley up to the plate, who lined his third hit of the day through the right side, scoring Johnson.
Auburn regained the lead without the benefit of a hit in the bottom of the sixth inning. Kaczmarek started Fradejas off with a four-pitch walk and then hit Mummey. UK turned to Little, who got Fletcher down 0-2 then plunked hit with a pitch to load the bags for Morris. Morris hung a sacrifice fly into centerfield, allowing the game-tying run to score. The fly ball moved Mummey to third base and Caldwell scored him with a groundout to Black.
UK evened up the game at its next opportunity, making it 5-5 in the top of the seventh. Black led off the inning with a bat-handle single to left field, moving to scoring position on Bisson’s sacrifice bunt. After a groundout, Wright drew a full-count walk to put runners on first and second. A wild pitch moved both runners to scoring position, Johnson scalded a ball at shortstop, beating the throw for a fielding error charged to Auburn, with Black scoring the game-tying run.
Auburn regained the lead in the bottom of the seventh. UK made a series of defensive changes before the inning, moving Glad from first to third base and putting Ray at first base from leftfield, with Cory Farris inserted in leftfield. Creede Simpson led off and hit a grounder into the hole at Glad, who threw high for a fielding error. After Wes Gilmer’s sacrifice bunt moved Simpson to scoring position, Hargett connected on a ground-rule double, scoring Simpson from second. After Fradejas popped out on a nine-pitch at bat, Mummey doubled to centerfield, scoring Hargett and giving Auburn a two-run lead.
Kentucky wouldn’t go away in the top of the eighth, as Glad led off with a no-doubt first-pitch homer of the left-field fence, his eighth of the season. Wiley then got hit by a 2-0 pitch from Hendrix, moving to second on a swinging bunt from Maile with a 3-2 count. Auburn turned to Hubbard, its closer, after he tossed over 50 pitches Friday night, to face Black. Hubbard struck out Black on a check-swing and then Bisson ripped a single up the middle to score the game-tying run. Bisson then stole second and third base with Farris at the plate, who had a 3-2 count with Bisson, the go-ahead run, at third base. Farris chopped a hard-hit ball into the hole on the right side of the infield, with Morris bobbling it for an error, and Bisson scoring the go-ahead run. UK appeared to plate another run in the inning, as Wright singled through the right side, with Farris appearing to beat the throw and the tag to the plate but home plate umpire Randolph Harvey ruled that he was out on a controversial call.